1. Next Stop Mars
Written by Sun Ra
Performed by Sun Ra And His Myth Science Arkestra
From the LP When Angels Speak Of Love (Saturn, USA 1963)



We’ll take a trip to space
The next stop Mars

We’ll take a trip to space
The next stop Mars

We’ll take a trip to space
The next stop Mars

The next stop Mars
The next stop Mars
The next stop Mars

One. Mars and Maya

In February 2010 a fellow by the name of Solomon posted a request on the web forum alt.paranormal.com calling on all Native American tribes to undertake a mass migration to Mars:

‘The one who is in me has come before, and before he left certain tribes of Native Americans for the final time (when he was still publicly known), he promised some of those standing there that he would be back and lead them to their destiny. It is my belief that Mars is this Native American ‘promised land’ – it’s not an easy task, to be sure, but Native Americans have come to be in a position to take full advantage of it.

The time is ripe for those Native Americans with the resources to do so to lay claim to their new world. What you need to try to do if you can, what will really help you the most to claim your new world, is to offer to work with NASA during their current budget crisis. The government is not funding them any longer – not to the extent they would need to be funded.

Approach them, offer to help them if they will help you reach and lay claim to Mars in the name of the Native Americans who were promised their destiny by the one once known as the mythical Quetzalcoatl. […] If you go as a unified group and lay claim to the red planet, they cannot stop you. Their governments cannot stop you, they wouldn’t dare. Especially if you can develop any effective anti-spacecraft technology. You could go in secret, and by the time they realize what’s going on, your foothold could be firmly established. [1]

Quetzalcoatl was of course a Native American, Ancient American, sky god. He was worshipped by the Olmecs, Mixtecs, Aztecs, Toltecs, and the Maya, according to whom he was the creator of the universe. It sounds to us as though Solomon was drawing a connection between the Native Americans and the indigenes of southern North America, Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. Of these Native Americans the Mayans interest in Mars would, we think, have a special relevance for Solomon. Here’s an extract from Factsaboutmars.net which explains why. It might also suggest why Solomon would consider Mars to be Native America’s future (and perhaps original) home:

‘The Mayans were the first to figure out Mars’ orbit. In the Dresden Codex, they created a Mars calendar that is accurate to the day. They didn’t know why Mars travelled backwards, but they knew when it would. The Mayans understood perfectly Mars’ relationship with the other celestial bodies.

Mars doesn’t actually travel backwards. Modern astronomy has shown us that Mars’ orbit around the sun is simply slower than the earth’s. Once every 25 months, the earth passes Mars up, and it appears to go backward. It is called ‘retrograde motion’ and other planets do it as well, but less often.

The Mayan civilisation had an uncanny knack for studying the stars and creating perfect calendars. They were the first in the world to figure out that the year has 365 days. This detailed knowledge of the solar system, as well as other supposed evidence, has led many to believe that the Mayans are descendents of an ancient race from Mars.

It sounds like science fiction, but the theory is based on the 1968 bestseller ‘Chariots of the Gods’ by Erik Von Daniken. The book says that Martians fled their dying planet and came to the earth, the closest planet. It’s a wild theory, but as more evidence of ancient rivers and oceans on Mars emerge, it gains popularity. […] All strange theories aside, the Mayans were the keenest observers of the stars, and of all ancient peoples, they were the most astute at charting Mars’ path. [2]

Mayan civilisation was at its peak in around 600AD. They developed one of the most accurate and sophisticated calendrical systems of their time, according to which, history (of space-time, the earth, the universe?) begins on, a date which, we read on the website authenticmaya.com, corresponds to August 12, 3114 BC. The website also explains that the Mayan calendar ends in a few years time, on December 21 2012: ‘In the perspective of the living Maya Timekeepers of Guatemala, calendrically speaking, each element has a 5,125 year cycle. They teach that we have been through fire, earth, air and water already. The next cycle (beginning Dec 21, 2012) will be ether – the Fifth Age – the Age of Center.’ [3]

We don’t know what the end of the Maya calendar will mean for us here in the 21st century; we’ve no idea what the cycle of ether or the age of [the] centre will be, or what will happen on December 12 2012 or thereabouts. Mind you, nor do the folks at authenticmaya.com: ‘The Mayan glyphs and hieroglyphs aren’t crystal clear about what the calendar end means, but the Maya descendants in the Highlands of Guatemala believe that it will be the beginning of a better world.’ [4] Which is a note upbeat enough to make us hope there’s no need for America’s first people to start investigating anti spacecraft technology, or approaching NASA – at least not in the immediate future.

The possibilities of what this ‘end’ might mean is an increasingly hot topic on the Internet, in conferences, printed articles, and in discussions all over the globe [5], writes Dan Sewell Ward at The Library of Halexandria at halexandria.org. Dan has compiled a list of some websites with interesting speculations and opinions as to what the Maya may have had in mind:

One website from Berkeley Educational (but which is now defunct) described the ‘Mars by 2012’ project, ‘a NASA-sponsored course offered through the Earth and Planetary Science Department (EPS 98/198). The course allows undergraduates to participate in ongoing research projects related to the problems and challenges humans will face in a manned mission to Mars.’ The website goes on to headline, ‘The Synergy Project [uniting] universities, industries, NASA [in] bringing humans to Mars.’

Is there, perhaps, a suspicion at Berkeley that being on Mars in 2012 A.D. might be highly preferable to being on Earth at that time? And that by no longer giving the course, they’ve concluded that someone does not really want people thinking too much about Mars? Good thing I’m not a conspiracy theorist! [6]

Neither are we, Dan, neither are we. There was a time though, as recently as 2005, when NASA was all in favour of having the public think about sending humans to Mars. The agency was pretty upfront about the reasons why they thought this was a good idea. It appears to be to do with what sounds like cosmic colonialism, a way of expanding American foreign policy into the stars. Here’s an extract from an interview with NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin, from the Washington Post:

‘Griffin: The goal isn’t just scientific exploration . . . it’s also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time. . . In the long run a single-planet species will not survive. We have ample evidence of that . . . (Species have) been wiped out in mass extinctions on an average of every 30 million years.

WP: But are there examples of multiple-planet species?

Griffin: We don’t know of any other species anywhere, but while I cannot say that multiple-planet species will survive, I think I can prove to you from our own geologic record that single-planet species don’t.

Now, you know, in the sense that a chicken is just an egg’s way of laying another egg, one of our purposes is to survive and thrive and spread humankind. I think that’s worth doing. There will be another mass-extinction event. If we humans want to survive for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, we must ultimately populate other planets. Now, today the technology is such that this is barely conceivable. We’re in the infancy of it.

WP: So you’re actually talking about a community on Mars that has a large enough population and can sustain itself for thousands of years anticipating this event?

Griffin: Not necessarily. I’m talking about that one day, I don’t know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it. We may well have people living on the moon. We may have people living on the moons of Jupiter and other planets. We may have people making habitats on asteroids. We’ve got places that humans will go, not in our lifetime, but they will go there.

WP: Is it important that Americans lead the way?

Griffin: To me it’s important because I like the United States, and because I know – I don’t know the date – but I know that humans will colonise the solar system and one day go beyond. And it is important for me that humans who carry – I’ll characterise it as Western values – are there with them […] I don’t know that it’s a concern that others get there first. What does concern me is that where other people go, the United States must also be. I’m not trying to stomp other people into the ground, but I would like to be assured that wherever the frontier of human civilisation is, that people from America are there as well. . . It should be viewed as an investment in carrying American culture, American values.’ [7]

Two. ‘He’s Not From No Mars.’

By 1963, when Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra recorded Next Stop Mars, the Soviet Union had put the first human in space. They had also initiated the world’s first unmanned spacecraft interplanetary programme, giving them an edge over their cold war enemies, the United States, who had done nothing of the kind. Here is something on Mars from a Wikipedia page called Exploration Of Mars:

‘Mars 1 (1962 Beta Nu 1) an automatic interplanetary station launched to Mars on November 1, 1962 was the first probe of the Soviet Mars probe programme. Mars 1 was intended to fly by the planet at a distance of about 11,000 km and take images of the surface as well as send back data on cosmic radiation, micrometeoroid impacts and Mars’ magnetic field, radiation environment, atmospheric structure, and possible organic compounds. Sixty-one radio transmissions were held, initially at two day intervals and later at 5 days in which a large amount of interplanetary data was collected. On 21 March 1963, when the spacecraft was at a distance of 106,760,000 km from Earth, on its way to Mars, communications ceased, due to failure of the spacecraft’s antenna orientation system.’ [8]

Previous attempts hadn’t met with much success either. We should say here that the Soviet space programme wasn’t just about proving their superiority over the Americans. Russia’s relationship with the cosmos was informed by a line of mysticism, that ties pre-Soviet thinking to Soviet era, space age practice – a line of esoteric thinking that connects Sergey Korolev, creator of the Soviet space programme, to his mentor, the founding father of rocket science, Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky [9], who was also the mentor of Valentin Glushko, pioneer of Soviet rocket propulsion, and whose thinking about the cosmos was inspired by the philosopher Nikolai Fedorov. Here’s a good description of what Fedorov was about from the gurdjieff-legacy.org website:

‘Fedorov’s theme was the literal, physical resurrection of all the dead to life, ‘not only a scientific possibility but a moral duty…to be accomplished by human ingenuity and effort’. Science should turn its aim to creating a world that could accommodate this vast population. In advocating genetic engineering, the colonisation of space (so all the resurrected dead would have a place to live), solar energy, climate control, irrigating Arabia with Arctic icebergs, cloning, prosthetic organs, prolonging human life, and improving human health until immortality is universal, Fedorov set the agenda for Soviet science.’ [10]

And to illustrate the nature of Fedorov’s cosmic mysticism, here’s an extract from his treatise written between 1906 and 1913, What Was Man Created For? The Philosophy of the Common Task:

‘The ability to live all over the Universe, enabling the human race to colonise all the worlds, will give us the power to unite all the worlds of the Universe into an artistic whole, a work of art, the innumerable artists of which, in the image of the Triune Creator, will be the entire human race, the totality of the risen and re-created generations inspired by God, by the Holy Spirit, who will no longer speak through certain individuals, the prophets, but will act through all the sons of man in their ethical or brotherly (supramoral) totality, through the sons of man attaining divine perfection (‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’) in the cause, the work of restoring the world to the sublime incorruptibility it had before the Fall. Then, united, science and art will become ethics and aesthetics; they will become a natural universal technology of their work of art – the cosmos. United, science and art will become an ethico-aesthetic theurgy, no longer mystical but real.’ [11]

By 1963 Sun Ra had been making what he called ‘interplanetary music’ for seven years. We’ve read, in John Szwed’s biography, Space is the Place, that Ra watched the news of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to escape Earth’s orbit in a spaceship and felt as if the world was catching up with him. We wonder what Sun Ra would have made of Fedorov’s thinking, whether he would have felt an affinity with the philosopher’s death defying culturally hybridic universe. Ra’s idea of heaven, of the heavens in which Gagarin floated, and which Ra believed would one day be populated by humans, was a place alive with the sound of Angels and the shimmer of oscillation between being and Being:

When Angels speak
They speak of cosmic waves of sound
Wavelength infinity
Always touching planets
In opposition outward bound
When Angels speak
They speak on wavelength infinity
Beam cosmos
Synchronising the rays of darkness
Into visible being
Dark Living Myth of Being

- When Angels Speak of Love [12]

John Szwed lists the first of Ra’s space themed compositions as being Tapestry From An Asteroid, from the 1956 album We Travel The Spaceways, on which you can also find Interplanetary Music. By the time of his death in 1993 Sun Ra had recorded hundreds and quite possibly composed thousands of space themed pieces of music in a career that spanned forty years.

Ra had his own ideas about how best to send men (and only men?) into space: ‘In tomorrow’s world, men will not need artificial instruments such as jets and space ships. In the world of tomorrow, the new man will ‘think’ the place he wants to go, then his mind will take him there.’ [13]

He hadn’t always been interested in space, though. Writer John Corbett put together an archive of Ra related artefacts from Ra’s period in Chicago, during the 1950s. The archive, housed at the University of Chicago, includes a lot of Ra’s writing. These texts are important, Corbett says, because they provide an insight into Ra’s thinking. One thing Corbett discovered while going through Ra’s writing was that Ra was more concerned with the Bible than the cosmos, and Corbett uses this knowledge to suggest a trajectory of the development of Ra’s space thinking:

‘We see him moving from a relatively isolated enclave that’s almost completely African American, even though they’re playing some white parties and white clubs, primarily he’s preaching to a black audience in Chicago, and in doing so he can talk about the Bible in a way that assumed that they’re familiar with it and that they will understand a lot of references he’s making. And there’s a tradition of street corner preaching that he’s tapping into. When he moves away from Chicago and starts to really consider what he’s doing in a more national and then international scope, he begins to increase the amount of space talk and space metaphor and reduce the amount of biblical and mystical material. So what you’re seeing in these writing is (work from a time) when the equation was really shifted the other way, and the emphasis was [on] reading the Bible as a coded message.’ [14]

Sun Ra didn’t care much for Judaeo-Christianity. As his name suggests, he identified with the gods and icons of ancient Egypt’s ruling elite rather than the Israelites of the Old Testament with whom African Americans had historically identified, telling an interviewer that the name Ra ‘is the oldest name known by man to signify an extra-terrestrial being. It’s very interesting to note that there is ‘ra’ in the middle of ‘Israel’: Is-ra-el. Take away the ‘ra’ [and] there is no more Israel.’ [15]

In October 1952 he legally changed his name from Herman Poole Blount to Le Sony’r Ra. He claimed to have been abducted by aliens who revealed to him that he was not Herman Blount, born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914, but was in fact from the planet Saturn. Sun Ra from Saturn: from October 1952 until his death in May 1993, that’s who he said he was and that’s where he told the world he was from.

It was an origin that placed him before and beyond the world made by the slave trade: in the racially segregated world of early twentieth century America, when the African American road to freedom ended in northern cities like Chicago and Ohio, and the search for a place of origin went as far as Africa, claiming the stars were your home was a layered way of saying a lot about the nature of race, belonging and dispossession, alienation and being (an) alien in America and the relation of all these things to the impossible. Here’s Ra in an exchange with a group of black teenagers from the 1972 movie Space Is The Place. It’s a feature so we’re guessing the dialogue was scripted. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s a concise enough summation of Ra’s view of himself and his relationship with his fellow African Americans:

‘How do you know I’m real? I’m not real. I’m just like you. You don’t exist in this society. If you did people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights. You’re not real. If you were you’d have some status among the nations of the world. I do not come to you as a reality; I come to you as a myth. Because that’s what black people are. Myths. I come from a dream that black men dreamed long ago. I’m actually a present sent to you by your ancestors’ [16]

Surprisingly, there isn’t a great deal of material on where Ra’s homosexuality fits in with his radical self reinvention (or in his recordings, performances, poems and so on) – we’d imagine though that in 1952 there was far less censure to be had from telling the world you were from the planet in our solar system most hostile to human life than from announcing you were gay.

We read in John Szwed’s biography that over the years Ra erased most of the traces of his former self. Szwed managed to find his sister. Having witnessed Herman Blount’s birth, she gave his claims to an otherworldly origin – and perhaps the necessity that compelled these claims – short shrift: ‘He’s not from no Mars’, she said [17]. Which was true enough – he said he was from Saturn, and in his music the cosmos represented the infinite nature of human potential:

Outer space
Is a pleasant place
A vast and endless free
There’s no limit to the things that you can do
There’s no limit to the things that you can be
Your thought is free
And your life is worthwhile
Space is the place

- Space Is The Place [18]

Three. The Promised Land on Mars

‘The world is nearly all parcelled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered, and colonised … I would annex the planets if I could. I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far.’

- Cecil Rhodes [19]

In 1992, the year before his death, Sun Ra could have bought some land on Mars. Virgiliu Pop, in his 2001 paper Buyer Beware, tells us that in April 1992 an outfit called Space Pioneers claimed ‘all the planets in the Milky Way Galaxy’ and were selling deeds to parts of Mars at $ 29.95 an acre. Here is Pop, writing as a PhD candidate at Glasgow University, describing the history of attempts by humans to own and sell parts of the cosmos:

‘In 1969, soon after Apollo 11 mission, Brazilian police arrested a man for selling lunar lots priced at $25 each. In his pro domo plea, the salesman said he had sold the first lots to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and that they went to the Moon to inspect their properties.

Eleven years later, Dennis Hope from Rio Vista, California, founded the first ‘extraterrestrial estate’ agency, the Lunar Embassy. In 1980, unaware of the previous affairs and thus believing that the Moon had not been previously claimed by anybody, and convinced that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibition of national appropriation in outer space would not apply to individuals, Hope registered at the federal office of his county a claim over the Moon and a ‘lunar constitution’, subsequently copyrighting his work with the US Copyright registry office. He also sent notifications of his claim to the USSR and US governments and to the UN, and he did not receive any answer. Convinced of the legality of his claim, Hope divided the visible side of the Moon in 3 million parcels that he began selling in supermarkets and later on the internet. Hope has extended his extraterrestrial real estate business to properties on Mars, Venus and Io.

By June 2000, there were more than 60,000 people holding real estate certificates from the Lunar Embassy, including Hollywood celebrities like Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford and, apparently, two former US presidents – Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.’ [20]

In January 2004 NASA successfully landed two robotic vehicles on Mars. That month, perhaps in anticipation of future discoveries and the opportunities – and complications – for exploitation, Capitalism Magazine printed an edited transcript of a paper presented to the Mars Society by Ron Pisaturo in 1999, titled Mars: Who Should Own It:

‘A capitalist, private-property policy is not an alternative moral policy for the exploration of Mars; it is the only moral policy. Suppose the US Government made the following declaration: The first person to land on Mars, and to live there some specified minimum duration (such as a year), and to return alive owns the entire Red Planet.

Objectivist philosopher Harry Binswanger recently proposed this policy (without specifying a required duration of stay) and defended it on moral grounds. But Dr. Binswanger made this defence to illustrate a more fundamental point, which is: Mars must be recognized as property – not some time in the future, but now. This is more important than the details of the specific rule for establishing initial ownership of Mars.’ [21]

Presumably Pisaturo, the Mars Society, the Lunar Embassy and its potential stellar landlords shared NASA’s celebratory mood when the agency announced in October 2005 that its robotic vehicles – named Spirit and Opportunity – had made an astonishing discovery. Here’s an extract from NASA’s press release, Spirit Marks One Year on Mars (One Martian Year, that is):

‘Spirit, the untiring robotic ‘wonder child’ sent by NASA to explore the eerily Earthlike fourth planet from the sun, has completed one Martian year – that’s almost two Earth years – on Mars. Designed to last only 90 Martian days (sols), the six-wheeled marvel the size of a golf cart has pursued a steady course of solar-driven geologic fieldwork, bringing back some 70,000 images and a new understanding of Mars as a potential habitat.

[…] While keeping warm in the winter, Spirit’s uphill battle also centred on what NASA sent both rovers to find: signs of past water on Mars. If water persisted for long periods of time in Martian history, the red planet might have once had a life-supporting environment. At first, Spirit’s studies showed plenty of volcanic rocks, but few signs of minerals formed by water.

Only by climbing did Spirit find what we were seeking,’ said Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator from Washington University in St. Louis. ‘With Spirit’s engineering stamina, we finally found rocks in the ‘Columbia Hills’ that either formed in, or were altered by, water. Perhaps best of all, the hills hold the highest sulfur content ever found on Mars: sulfate salts, deposited by water.’ […] The science team is busy even now plotting new destinations to strive toward. If the ‘Columbia Hills’ were once a distant dream, new far-off horizons beckon just as much. Getting there will stretch the rover’s capabilities as much as the imagination. Team member Jim Rice calls one such distant target, a rough and rugged terrain to the south, ‘the Promised Land.’ ’ [22]

In 2007 a NASA podcast reported that ‘after a stop to examine more layered outcrops at Erebus crater, Opportunity reached the Promised land, Victoria.’ Albert Haldemann, Mars Exploration Rover Deputy Project Scientist’s stated that they had found more evidence of water: ‘We found bedrock. We found rock attached to the planet. We went to Meridiani Planum based on a clue of hematite; hematite, a mineral that on Earth forms in the presence of water, liquid water.’

During the podcast Haldemann also made a comment that gave us the impression that a shift in perception of Mars had taken place: ‘I think we’ve gone from Mars being a place that’s star-like, that’s other worldly, of the realm of astronomers, to a place that geologists and climatologists roam, where it’s a world that works sort of like our world.’ [23]

In the 21st century space exploration is an international affair. We read on the Wikipedia page on the Exploration Of Mars that ‘In October 2009, an agreement signed between United states’ space agency, NASA, and Europe’s space agency, ESA in order to increase cooperation and expand collective capabilities, resources and expertise to continue the exploration of Mars; this agreement is named the Mars Joint Exploration Initiative.’ [24]

And the discoveries continue. In 2010 Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars twin rovers announced that ‘a substantial carbonate deposit in a Mars outcrop tells us that conditions that could have been quite favourable for life were present at one time in that place.’ [25]

Advocates of manned missions to Mars include President Barack Obama. Here’s an extract from a report by BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos from April 2010:

‘Barack Obama says it should be possible to send astronauts to orbit the planet Mars by the mid-2030s and return them safely to Earth. The US president made the claim in a major speech to staff and guests at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He was laying out the details of his new policy for the US space agency.

Mr Obama said he was giving NASA challenging goals and the funding needed to achieve them, including an extra $6bn over the next five years. ‘By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space,’ he told his audience. ‘So we’ll start – we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history.’

And then he added: ‘By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.’ ’ [26]

So that’s a countdown of twenty years. Who knows what will happen between now, 2010, and then. Until then, whenever that turns out to be, here is an indication of what has happened – or better yet, has not happened in Obama’s America, before now.

Four. ‘So much for the Promised Land.’ [27]

The immediate nature of the promise of the Martian lands is geological.

We’ve found no indication that the Promised Land of Mars was named as such with regard to Israel or in honour of Martin Luther King – it’s an informal name although not entirely out of step with the habitual naming of regions of Mars after individuals from the worlds of science, science fiction and American culture. But there is a tribute to King on Mars. It is called ‘Peace’ and it is described on the NASA website as ‘a very soft, nodular, layered rock.’ [28] An informal, incremental way, perhaps, of projecting something – the best – of human culture onto the landscape of Mars, a means of humanising Mars, and of creating a synonymy between that which is best in human and American presence, in the absence of Americans on Mars.

Interesting thing about Obama and King: it was during his acceptance of the Nobel peace prize in Oslo, December, 2009, that Obama marked his distance and his closeness to King’s legacy:

‘As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

[…] The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached – their faith in human progress – must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey. For if we lose that faith – if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace – then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, ‘I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.’ [29]

King’s vision, his declaration of having ‘seen the Promised land’ found a new host in the figure of Barack Obama: in Obama, America, well, slightly less than half of America, found a screen onto which they could project a wish for the return of at least the ambience of King’s project, if not the ambience of the man himself. For some the days after Obama’s presidential victory felt like America had become the Promised Land King had glimpsed – or its revenance, the dead returned as memory, haunting America, making its cities into ghost towns.


By Leonard Greene

New York Post, November 6, 2008

When the roar rose up over Harlem Tuesday night at the news of Barack Obama’s monumental victory, I immediately thought of my mother – who didn’t live long enough to see this wonderful day. I remembered the stories she told me of her life in the segregated South of rural West Virginia, where the same water flowed through two separate fountains. No sign-carrying protester or speech-making crusader, she practiced her quiet activism by voting every election – and being tough on her two sons.’ [30]

By the time President Obama was in Oslo giving his speech, the dead were piling up in Afghanistan and Iraq, America was proving itself useless amidst the growing chaos in the Middle East.

Journalist Robert Fisk wrote that

‘For the first time in history, the Norwegian Nobel committee awarded its peace prize to a man who has achieved nothing – in the faint hope that he will do something good in the future […] His Middle East policy is collapsing. The Israelis have taunted him by ignoring his demand for an end to settlement – building and by continuing to build their colonies on Arab land. His special envoy is bluntly told by the Israelis that an Arab-Israel peace will take ‘many years’. Now he wants the Palestinians to talk peace to Israel without conditions. He put pressure on the Palestinian leader to throw away the opportunity of international scrutiny of UN Judge Goldstone’s damning indictment of Israeli war crimes in Gaza while his Assistant Secretary of State said that the Goldstone report was ‘seriously flawed’. After breaking his pre-election promise to call the 1915 Armenian massacres by Ottoman Turkey a genocide, he has urged the Armenians to sign a treaty with Turkey, again ‘without pre-conditions’. His army is still facing an insurgency in Iraq. He cannot decide how to win ‘his’ war in Afghanistan. I shall not mention Iran.’

Obama had received the prize, Fisk wrote ‘for achievements he has not yet achieved and for dreams that will turn into nightmares’. [31]

As chance would have it, Michelle Alexander was also preoccupied with dreams and nightmares. Alexander is the former director of the Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California, and appointee with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. She is also the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness (2010), and in that book she warned that the triumph over racial discrimination declared by many in the wake of Obama’s presidency was still overdue:

‘Recent data shows […] that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that’s with affirmative action!

When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our ‘colourblind’ society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure – the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.

This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. This is not the promised land. The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.’ [32]

We read on universe.com that the minimum distance in the slightly shifting space between Mars and Earth is 34.6 million miles. Thinking of the distance, ascribed by Michelle Alexander, between 21st century America and King’s idea of what his country should be, and the distance between planet Earth and the Promised Land on Mars, we wondered which promised land was the furthest from black America.

There is, notwithstanding scientists’ humanitarian claims for the exploration of Mars, which could accompany the early stages of any tentative colonising mission, an apocalyptic, pessimistic strain to a lot of speculation about Mars and its future value if not for the human race as a whole then certainly for capitalism. An almost articulated wish for some calamity, maybe the fatal impact of a huge asteroid, or the depletion (or corruption) of Earth’s natural resources, a hope for a disastrous raison d’etre, a scenario that will make life on Earth unsustainable without some kind of human presence on Mars, that will make some kind of life on Mars not just a viable option, but an economic necessity, an essential means of extending human existence beyond the declining health of planet Earth.

We imagine Solomon thinking of the diminished lot of Native and Meso America as he writes ‘Mars is the Promised Land’, and it brings us back to the stargazing Maya, and, after the decline of their civilisation, the re-emergence of stargazing in the Aztecs fatal metaphysics of origin. The idea of astronauts landing on Mars, making their way to the Promised Land of Victoria crater, completes a circle of migration, founded in myth and science, from Mars to Earth to Mars.

Of course in promised lands the circle of belonging is never complete. An act of deferral written first on the land, promised lands are elliptical spaces: the circle of salvation is never complete, redemption never fully secured. In the twenty first century, what reverberates of the promised land narrative is the impossibility of keeping the promise, without also upholding the promise, the wish, the fantasy, of violence. What remains is the trace of the trope, fading and returning here or somewhere near here or somewhere way over there – perhaps where you are – always different, always the same, the dream and the nightmare recurring, one into the other, never completely ending, always on the verge of beginning for the first time, again.

‘When Motecuhzoma (Montezuma) had given necklaces to each one, Cortés asked him: ‘Are you Motecuhzoma? Are you the king? Is it true that you are the king Motecuhzoma?’.

And the king said: ‘Yes, I am Motecuhzoma.’ Then he stood up to welcome Cortés: he came forward, bowed his head low and addressed him in these words: ‘Our lord, you are weary. The journey has tired you, but now you have arrived on the earth. You have come to your city, Mexico. You have come here to sit on your throne, to sit under its canopy.

‘The kings who have gone before, your representatives, guarded it and preserved it for your coming. The kings Itzcoatl, Motecuhzoma the Elder, Axayacatl, Tizoc and Ahuitzol ruled for you in the City of Mexico. The people were protected by their swords and sheltered by their shields.

‘Do the kings know the destiny of those they left behind, their posterity? If only they are watching! If only they can see what I see! No, it is not a dream. I am not walking in my sleep. I am not seeing you in my dreams…. I have seen you at last! I have met you face to face! I was in agony for five days, for ten days, with my eyes fixed on the Region of the Mystery. And now you have come out of the clouds and mists to sit on your throne again.

‘This was foretold by the kings who governed your city, and now it has taken place. You have come back to us; you have come down from the sky. Rest now, and take possession of your royal houses. Welcome to your land, my lords!’

When Motecuhzoma had finished, La Malinche translated his address into Spanish so that the Captain could understand it. Cortés replied in his strange and savage tongue, speaking first to La Malinche: ‘Tell Motecuhzoma that we are his friends. There is nothing to fear. We have wanted to see him for a long time, and now we have seen his face and heard his words. Tell him that we love him well and that our hearts are contented.’

Then he said to Motecuhzoma: ‘We have come to your house in Mexico as friends. There is nothing to fear.’ La Malinche translated this speech and the Spaniards grasped Motecuhzoma’s hands and patted his back to show their affection for him … ’ [33]

- Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, Edited by Miguel LeonPortilla, 1519



[2] http://www.factsaboutmars.net/mars-and-the-mayans/

[3] http://www.authenticmaya.com/maya_cosmology.htm

[4] Ibid

[5] 2012 AD by Dan Sewell Ward, The Library of Halexandria

[6] Ibid

[7] NASA’s Griffin: ‘Humans Will Colonize the Solar System’, The Washington Post, Sunday, 25 September 2005

[8] Exploration Of Mars

[9] Tsiolkovsky And His Legacy, by Anatoly Zak, Russian Space Web

[10] Book Review: The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture,
Edited by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, Cornell University Press. No author given. From The Gurdjieff Journal—Fourth Way Perspectives

[11] What Was Man Created For? The Philosophy Of The Common Task, By N. F Federov. Selected works translated from the Russian and abridged by Elizabeth Kouatssoff and Marilyn Minto. Honeyglen/L’Age d’Homme, 1990
Sourced from http://www.regels.org/N-Fedorov-1.htm

[12] When Angels Speak of Love, by Sun Ra. From the CD When Angels Speak Of Love. Evidence USA 2000 ECD 22216-2

[13] Sun Ra, Liner notes to the CD Jazz In Silhouette – Images And Forecasts Of Tomorrow [1958].
Quoted in Space Is The Place – The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra, by John F Szwed, Pantheon Books, USA 1997

[14] Twenty First Century Music – Reissues, Memorabilia, And The Ongoing Activities Of The Sun Ra Arkestra Under The Direction Of Alto Saxophonist Marshall Allen, by Pete Gershon, published in Sun Ra – Interviews and Essays, edited by John Sinclair, Headpress Music UK 2010

[15] Sun Ra, quoted in From Ephrata (F-Ra-Ta) to Arkestra, by David Stowe, Michigan State University

[16] Sun Ra, Space Is The Place [1972] directed by John Coney, transcribed by John Sinclair in Sun Ra On Film, by John Sinclair, published in Sun Ra – Interviews and Essays, edited by John Sinclair, Headpress Music UK 2010

[17] Szwed

[18] Space Is The Place, written by Sun Ra, performed by Sun Ra & The Solar Orchestra. From the LP Universal Sounds Of America [Various Artists], Soul Jazz Records UK 1995

[19] Cecil Rhodes, quoted in Lunar Real Estate: Buyer, Beware! By Virgiliu Pop, LL.Lic, LL.M. Paper first presented at the First Convention of Lunar Explorers, Paris, 8-10 March 2001. Sourced from Space Future

[20] Pop

[21] Mars: Who Should Own It, by Ron Pisaturo, Capitalism Magazine 20 January 2004

[22] Spirit Marks One Year On Mars (One Martian Year, That Is):

[23] Three Years On Mars: Opportunity’s Story

[24] Exploration Of Mars http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploration_of_Mars

[25] NASA Rover Finds Clue To Mars’ Past And Environment For Life

[26] Obama Sets Mars Goal For America, by Jonathan Amos, BBC News

[27] So Much For The Promised Land, by Chris Hedges. From Truthdig, 3 August, 2009

[28] Mars Exploration Rover Mission. Press Release Images: Spirit

[29] Full Text Of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Speech. Remarks Of The U.S. President In Oslo
msnbc.com updated 9:15 a.m. ET Dec. 10, 2009

[30] A Day In The Promised Land, by Leonard Greene, New York Post, 6 November, 2008

[31] Obama, Man Of Peace? No, Just A Nobel Prize Of A Mistake, by Robert Fisk: The Independent. Sunday, 11 October 2009

[32] How The War On Drugs Gave Birth To A Permanent American Underclass, by Michelle Alexander, 10 March 2010. Originally posted on Truthdig. Sourced from Alternet.org

[33] Broken Spears: The Aztec Account Of The Conquest Of Mexico, Edited By Miguel LeonPortilla, 1519.
Sourced from II. An Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, excerpt from The Broken Spears (1520s) Speeches of Motecuhzoma and Cortés http://academic.udayton.edu/bradhume/hst103/hst103common.htm via Hernando Cortes On The Web http://www.isidore-of-seville.com